Posts Tagged Bob Mayer

Writing is Best When We Get Out of Our Own Way

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

One of the benefits of attending the same conferences year after year is I get to see which writers are published and which aren’t. Which writers finished the book, and which ones haven’t. It’s staggering how many authors I know who have been working on the same manuscript for two, three, five or even ten years. As NYTBSA Bob Mayer likes to say, “They are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

I confess, I was once guilty of this behavior, too. I would absolutely edit my WIPs to DEATH, and this behavior made it impossible to finish. Thankfully, blogging and writing non-fiction has helped tremendously with my fiction. I have learned to overcome perfectionism and ship.

Just Tell the D@&% Story

I recently finished a novel, but I will confess that, as I wrote, it was sooooo tempting to go back and edit, correct, perfect every sentence. This time? I didn’t. Every time I was tempted to go back, re-plot, adjust the story, revise, I just said to myself, “Kristen, just tell the d@&% story.”

This is why the simple act of knowing what your story problem is and where it will end is VITAL.

My story problem?

A former Dallas socialite is blackballed after her con-man fiance vanishes with a half a billion dollars in stolen money, leaving her as the FBI’s favorite suspect. Homeless and broke, she’s forced to move in with her crazy trailer trash family, where she soon discovers that solving her mother’s fifteen-year-old murder is the only way to uncover a massive criminal network before they kill her and everyone she loves.

This means my mind has a checklist of everything that needs solving regarding plot. Likely, the book will end with 1) solving the murder 2) exposing the criminal network and 3) finding the missing fiance and the stolen money.

Knowing how your character needs to change is also VITAL.

Character-wise, there is also a mental checklist. I know who my protagonist is in the beginning and where she needs to be by the end. This helps tremendously because, as I wrote, my protagonist would say or do certain things and my mind would inject, “Uh uh. She isn’t that evolved yet.” Or “Um, she needs to have grown up a little bit by now.”

Simply knowing those two elements: What is the problem that must be solved by the end? How does my protagonist have to change in order to earn the title “hero”? These two critical pieces can help you get out of your own way. I learned this cool stuff from Bob, by the way, so take his classes if you can or go to his retreat. Will change your life.

Learning to R-TUTE (Yes, you can giggle)

RESIST THE URGE TO EDIT. This can also stand for RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.

I recall, as I was writing my latest book, my hands seemed to take on a life of their own. I would add in an unplanned character or an unforeseen (seemingly meaningless) detail. Not too long ago, I would have backspaced over these moments of serendipity, convinced they were stupid because “they weren’t part of the outline.”

Yet, by the time I reached the end of my novel, I was blown away at how those “unplanned” details and players had coalesced into a multi-layered story I’m unsure I could’ve consciously plotted.

Your subconscious is your best friend. Premature editing can uproot the unconscious seeds of brilliance. Premature editing can kill momentum.

RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN! You DO NOT NEED TO EXPLAIN. Really.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians RUINED The Force. Same with your characters. Don’t go “back in time” to tell us why Such-and-Such is a brooding emotional mess. We don’t want to be your protagonist’s shrink, we want to partner with her on an adventure and watch her overcome her flaws in amazing ways.

Do you like hanging out with people who can do nothing but talk about their bad childhood? I don’t. Why would we want to hang out with characters (novels) who drag us to mandatory family therapy? We DON’T.

The Benefits of Writing FAST

We Learn by DOING.

We can read books about playing guitar for years and still have no clue how to play the guitar. The best way to learn how to write full-length novels is to write full-length novels. No one (but you and probably every friend and family member) expects your first book to be perfect. Get over it.

When I first played clarinet, it sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose. Practice made the difference. Practicing FULL songs, from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to finally (four years later) The Marriage of Figaro. But I didn’t play The Marriage of Figaro the first week I picked up my instrument. Same with novels. Keep writing and write to the end.

We Are Professionals

This is one of the reasons I do recommend blogging. We need to write every day. If we want to do this thing for real, then we have to take on the role of a professional. This means showing up a minimum of five days a week. What other job would let us show up when we feel inspired and not fire us? Who can take us seriously if we work when we feel like it?

Writing FAST Helps Keep Us Out of Our Own Way

When we write fast, we don’t have time to over-think and edit the life out of our story. Move forward. Press on. Especially new writers. You need the practice. More experienced authors can languish a bit more because they earned it. Eric Clapton can spend hours perfecting a certain riff, but he already passed the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Test. 

Keep pressing and practicing. Every book makes you a better writer! Eventually you will be executing the literary equivalent of The Marriage of Figaro and can leave Mary Had a Little Lamb behind :D.

For those who are curious about what The Marriage of Figaro sounds like on clarinet:

What do you think? Are you editing your WIP to death? How to you resist the urge to edit? Does it involve duct tape and twisty ties? Are you struggling with finishing? Or, are you finishing books, but don’t feel you are improving enough?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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The Secret to Success–Quitting

 

Want to know the secret to success? Quitting. Yes, you heard me correctly. And, if you’re a creative professional, it is in your interest to learn to get really good at quitting. Maybe you’ve felt like a loser or a failure, that your dream to make a living with your art was a fool’s errand.

Maybe, if you are anything like me, just maybe you had friends and family and people around you telling you that you were a dreamer, that you needed to get your head out of the clouds and to let go of your “magic beans” and learn to be something practical that made a good paycheck and came with dental benefits. Maybe, in an effort to counteract all this negativity, you found yourself wandering the inspiration books in Half Price Bookstore (namely because you were too broke to buy books full-price). And maybe, just maybe, you clung to the little dog-eared quote books full of really bad advice.

Bad advice?

Yes. Bad advice like:

Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever. ~Lance Armstrong

You can never quit. Quitters never win and winners never quit. ~Ted Turner

You know what you call the writer who never gives up? Published. ~J.A. Konrath

Okay, well I won’t say this is exactly BAD advice, rather it is incomplete advice. Yet, this incomplete advice can get us into a lot of trouble.

Winners Quit All the Time

I posit this thought; if we ever hope to achieve anything remarkable, we must learn to quit. In fact, I’ll take this another step. I venture to say that most aspiring writers will not succeed simply because they aren’t skilled at quitting.

Ooooohhhh.

Learning Discernment

One problem many artists have is we lack discernment. It’s easy to get trapped in all-or-nothing thinking. If we defy family in pursuit of our art and something stops working properly, out of pride often we will persist even when the very thing we are attempting is the largest reason we will fail.

We keep reworking that first novel over and over. We keep querying the first novel and won’t move on until we get an agent. We keep writing in the same genre even though it might not be the best fit for our voice. We keep marketing the first self-published book and don’t move forward and keep writing more books and better books.

Learning to Quit is the Surest Insurance Against Failure

In fact, in my book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer I even say, “Persistence looks a lot like stupid.” The act of never giving up is noble, but never giving up on the wrong things is a formula to fail. We have to learn to detect the difference between quitting a tactic and quitting a dream.

If I am trying to climb Mt. Everest, but I am repeatedly failing at climbing the one side, which is a sheer rock face with no way to get a footing, then it is suicide to keep trying the same thing. If, however, I regroup, hike back to the bottom and take another way up the mountain, I am a quitter…but I am NOT a failure. In fact, to win I must quit.

Learn to Quit from the Best

Most of us suck at knowing how and when to quit. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to surround ourselves with successful people, because successful people are expert quitters. When I started out, I had all the wrong mentors. I had friends who quit writing when it was boring or who quit querying after a handful of rejections. They quit attending critique because they got their feelings hurt when people didn’t rave their book was the best thing since kitten calendars.

All this wrong kind of quitting is easy to fall into. Excuses are free, but they cost us everything.

My Life Changed When I Changed the Quitters in My Company

It all started with the DFW Writer’s Workshop. I attended and met people living the life I wanted to have…the life of a professional writer. They were the same as me, and yet very different. When I went to DFW’s conference–which I HIGHLY recommend so sign up NOW for the May conference–I found myself being pushed to yet a higher level.

I met and stalked Candy Havens. Candy is an excellent quitter. She wrote her first bad book and didn’t spend the next six years trying to resurrect it. She sought training and experts and moved forward. She quit outside hobbies and friends that took away from her goal of becoming a professional author.

The next great quitter I met? Oooh, this guy was a real turning point in my life. In fact, I regularly give thanks I met this person because his kind of quitting took me to a whole new level in my career. NYTBSA Bob Mayer. Bob is the best quitter I’ve ever met.

Bob taught me the importance of setting goals, because goals help us know when and what to quit. Bob showed me that it was okay to quit. It was okay to walk away from things that weren’t working and try something new. He walked away from the author life he’d always known, the safe route, and he quit. He decided to start a publishing company. It was the bravest kind of quitting I’ve ever seen. I know it was hard for him, and I am so thrilled to see him reaping the rewards for his hard work and bravery.

New York publishing should pay attention. If something isn’t working QUIT. Move on! If we have to defend and justify what we are doing there’s something wrong.

Everything is Our Enemy

It’s hard to know when to quit. I’m a loyal person. I’m loyal to a fault and I struggle every day with this lesson. But I’ve recently come to a conclusion. People who reach their dreams don’t get there by doing EVERYTHING. Everything is dead weight. Everything will keep us from focusing. Everything gets us distracted. Everything is the enemy.

As you guys know, recently I had to let go of my critique group. It just wasn’t working. It wasn’t that I didn’t love every person in there, but with gas prices at $5 a gallon (and nothing in Texas is close) the attendance just was never great. Then, there were all the other dreams I wanted to achieve, so I had to let go. No bad feelings.

I love teaching blogging classes, but I had to let go of doing it the way I was doing it. It was too cumbersome and it was affecting how well I could teach. The tactic was endangering the outcome.

I had to realize that to win I had to quit. Sometimes our goals are correct, just how we are trying to get there is flawed. There is nothing wrong with having a goal of going to Florida from Texas. I can start out on a pogo stick, but no one would blame me for trading it for a car.

Sometimes we need to let go of inefficiencies, and if we don’t let go, then failure is just a matter of time.

Artists Actually Need More Quitting

Quit your day job. Today. This moment. Now, by quitting, I don’t mean you should throw your laptop in a waste can and take a bat to that copy machine that’s eaten every presentation you’ve tried to photocopy since the day you were hired….though that might be fun.

No, I mean mentally QUIT, then hire yourself to the dream. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to be any kind of creative professional. Hire yourself to the job you dream about. TODAY.

When I was at the North Texas RWA Conference I heard the best term EVER. No aspiring writers, only pre-published writers. If you want to be a professional author, you must quit to win. The day job is no longer the ends, but rather the means. The day job is just venture capital funding the successful art-making business…YOU.

You are a pre-published author…who happens to also be a stay-at-home-mom, a computer programmer, a salesperson, a whatever.

Learn to Quit Being Everything

Again, Everything is the enemy. Friends and family will want you to keep being the maid and the taxi and the babysitter and the buddy who can spend all day shoe-shopping. Many of us will try to keep being Everything to everyone and we’ll just try to “fit in” writing, but that is the lie that will kill the dream. We can’t be Everything!

We must learn when to quit and to be firm in quitting. Others have the right to be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. And, if they really love us they will get over it quickly and be happy for our resolve to reach our dreams. If they don’t? They’re dead weight and it’s better to cull them out of our life sooner than later.

Yes, this is hard stuff. Reaching our dreams is simple, but it will never be easy ;).

Next week we’ll explore some more ways to know how and when to quit. In the meantime, I do recommend Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward. This is an excellent book to teach how to set goals and make a plan for success. I also recommend Seth Godin’s The Dip–The Little Book That Teaches When to Quit and When to Stick. I do have to say that I loved Seth Godin’s book, but I was a tad annoyed to spend $11 on a 50 page book. It is a wonderful book with loads of great advice, but I suggest getting a used copy. I felt a bit gouged.

So what are some of your quitting stories? Did it work? Were you better off? Tell us your quit to win story! Do you need help sticking to your guns? Hey, your family doesn’t get you, but we do! Do you have a problem and you don’t know if you should stick or quit? Put it in the comments section and let us play armchair psychiatrist!

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Rachel Sullivan!!! Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.


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R-E-S-P-E-C-T isn’t FREE!!!

 

Last week in What’s the Problem with FREE!? we talked about how giving away FREE! downloads of our books can actually do more harm than good. I also gave an example of the software company that refused to offer anything for FREE! back in the dot.com boom in the 90s when all the competition was handing out goodies left and right. When every other dot.com was giving away golf shirts, trips, goodies and software for FREE! this company stood firm and offered nothing…for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, this company gave away FREE! stuff. They just didn’t give it away for free ;).

Free! is Best When It Isn’t Free

I read J.A. Konrath’s  and Bob Mayer’s blogs because both of them provide a lot of valuable insight for the writing professional. At first it might seem that Konrath and Mayer and I would disagree, that we would be at odds. Why? Because Konrath and Mayer will be the first to give us writers a digital kick in our digital @$$ to get off Twitter and Facebook to write more books. They make no bones about telling writers to get back to work and WRITE! Me, being a Social Media Expert Jedi, should be aghast.

What? How can you tell writers to get their tuchus off Twitter? Twitter is the best thing since Gummy Bears! And Facebook? What are you communists in league with SOPA to keep writers from sharing that video with the dancing squirrel?

Actually, I agree with Konrath and Mayer and it is one of the reasons WANA methods look VERY different from most social media approaches. See, I am not here to make you guys social media experts. I am here merely to help you use this tool called social media in the most time-effective way, because the best thing you can do to become a successful author or even a brand is to write more books. Write as many books as you can! Good books.

Write! Write like the wind! This is true for ALL authors—traditional, indie and self-pubbed. The more books we have for sale the greater our odds of success. And don’t think I am telling people to churn out crap just to have more books. There is nothing further from the truth. In fact, I dedicate every Monday on this blog to help y’all grow to be better and better writers. But few things can help our writing abilities like…um, writing.

Rocket science, right?

I just taught an on-line class about branding. I had all kinds of questions about Google Ads, Goodreads, Pinterest, blog tours, etc. to sell books and brand. My answer? Don’t become an expert at social media, become an expert at writing good books. Social media is a means not an end. The one critical ingredient to ALL author brands? BOOKS. GOOD BOOKS. The more, the better. Successful authors are not judged on the quality of their fan page. They are judged by the quality of their books.

Okay, you guys got the point. WRITE!

Yes, sometimes it might seem that I am beating a dead horse, but this is really critical. Konrath and Mayer had a distinctive advantage when they decided to self-publish. If, for no other reason? They had a lot of good books to offer. Why does this matter? Well, for today’s purposes, it has to do with FREE!

FREE! has More Power the More Titles We Have to Offer

FREE! is what can hook a long-term commitment. We can give a teaser to gain passion and loyalty. Yet, we can only do this if we have more than one title for sale. A potential customer (reader) sees that we have more than one book for sale. Ah, but one is FREE! This makes a reader a bit more excited since now…

FREE! is in Context of NOT-FREE!

Value is relative. If readers go to a site and an author has her one and only manuscript up to give-away, we might bite for the FREE! download. But, when we go to an author page and there are ten titles for sale, all for 4.99, yet one is FREE!, naturally we feel better about our decision to bite on the FREE!. Also, because this pricing was given in context, as humans, we will place more value on the download so we are more likely to read this one FIRST.

This is one of the reasons that authors like Konrath, Mayer and Eisler have done so well. Not only were they offering vetted titles, but they offered a lot of them, thus their product (the book) could be judged in context. John Locke, the successful self-published author, didn’t have vetted titles, but he did offer A LOT of them. Thus, those who liked Locke’s FREE! book now had a whole list of other his titles for sale.

FREE! is only valued when consumers believe it costs us (the giver) something.

Go back to the example I gave last week. I have a half a dozen magnet calendars I got for FREE! in my junk drawer. Does any of this make me want to do business with any of these real estate agents? No…because in my mind it really didn’t cost them anything. But what about the agent who sent me a $100 Lowes gift card? (Our agent sent us this after we closed on our house). That man will have my loyalty FOREVER, because he gave something that cost him, even though I know he made money off the sale of our house. He didn’t have to send $100 gift card. He could have sent us a calendar and a thank you note like my mom’s realtor did to her. But he didn’t and he now has a customer for LIFE.

This is why multiple books for sale help the impact of FREE! Since we have other titles for sale at a higher price, then it is perceived (by the consumer) that we are taking a loss when we offer something for FREE! This creates the reciprocity that is critical for driving sales. Reciprocity is very often negated when an author gives away her one and only manuscript for FREE!

FREE! is Most Effective When We Maintain Our Negotiating Power

If all we have is one book…then we give it away, the power has just completely shifted over to the reader. We are completely at the mercy that he or she will be compelled to talk about our book. Since we have no other titles for sale, we have nothing else to gain, other than maybe some ranking on Amazon. But even then, that only worked well when everyone wasn’t giving stuff away for FREE! We are in a position of weakness, of need. Not the best place to earn R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

FREE! is Most Powerful as a Part of a Quid Pro Quo

I’m not, per se against giving away books for FREE!, but I do think that there are smarter ways to go about doing this. As I stated earlier, FREE is best when it isn’t FREE!

In fact, FREE! can actually be a wonderful tool to get customers to spend MORE money…but the clincher is we have to have more than one book to offer.

Since it would be almost irresponsible for me NOT to mention Amazon at some point during this discussion, we will use them as an example. A while back Amazon.com started offering FREE! shipping on orders over a certain amount.

Thus, a person who purchased a book for $14.95 might pay an extra $3.95 for shipping. In total, the customer would be out less than $20. But, if they bought another book for a total of $29.95…they would get their shipping for FREE! Many people probably didn’t even want or need the second book, but the power of FREE! proved just too much to resist. And obviously this tactic works because Amazon still offers FREE! shipping when we consumers jump through various hoops (all of which are, of course, profitable for Amazon).

This is why it is critical to write more and more and more books, especially if you are self-published, because then you can use FREE! to its maximum advantage.

Bundled is Better

A good way to gain more sales traction? Bundling.  Buy two books for $4.99 and get a FREE! download of another short story, novel, whatever. This kind of FREE! makes readers very happy. Consumers are then lured to put out money to get the FREE! I happen to be very blessed to be part of Who Dares Wins Publishing and they do these types of deals regularly and it is a win-win for authors and readers.

FREE! Needs a Perceived Value

FREE! doesn’t have to be in the form of books or downloads. Heck, offer FREE! shipping on orders over a certain amount. Why reinvent the wheel? Copy what works, and, if Amazon has done this successfully, then so can we. Yet, again, this only works when we have more than one title for sale.

My Biggest Gripe About FREE!

I think writers, especially self-published writers, get overly fascinated with marketing, and the allure of FREE! only makes this worse. I see far too many writers uploading that ONE manuscript and then spending every spare waking moment, promoting that one book to the point of being viewed as spam. They tweet with every imaginable hashtag, “Come get my book for FREE! FREE NOW! A book for FREE!” ….and after the 40th time we get this tweet, we are willing to pay the writer to stop tweeting.

They remind me of gamblers chasing their losses. Because ONE DAY they had X number of downloads, they are back at the track trying to make that number appear again. If we run around handing our one and only manuscript for FREE! then what good does it gain us? I am sure there is some good that can come from it, but not the real game-changing benefit that I want all of you to enjoy.

If we study the success stories, especially in indie publishing, the winners always had multiple titles—J.A. Konrath, Bob Mayer, John Locke, Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, etc. So Mayer and Konrath are correct—write, then write some more. Less tweeting and more writing.

When we have more than one book to sell, FREE! becomes a pricing strategy, not a desperate cry for attention.

Yes, I am the social media expert for writers, because I will be honest enough to tell you guys that the point to all this tweeting and blogging and FBing is to drive enough book sales that we can lose the day job and do what we love. We can’t do this with one book. The odds of this are about the same as getting mugged and hit by lightning on the same day. If we are spending too much time on social media, then we aren’t writing more books. Thus, social media is no longer a powerful advantage…and neither is FREE!

So what are your thoughts? Opinions? What are your experiences with FREE!? Any thoughts, suggestions? Recipes for killer chocolate martinis?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great book.

Winner’s Circle

Winner of last week’s 5-Page Critique is Tahlia Newland. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Ginger Club is the winner of last month’s 15 page critique. Please send your 3750 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Congratulations!

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is a WONDERFUL resource for the best information in this industry.

Joe Konrath’s blog is another wonderful resource.

Colin Falconer had an AWESOME blog Historical or Fiction?

Friesen Press has a great post that I need to print and STUDY, Take the Busyness out of Business.

The real way to build a social network by Reid Hoffman over at CNN Money

The Big Reasons Indie Authors aren’t Taken Seriously at Huffington Post

Red Pen of Domm, Why Blog Hits Don’t Matter Though I don’t agree 100% we actually agree on a lot. We can have 10 zillion hits and they are all bots or random clicks. Quality trumps quantity and I agree.

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Kung-Fu Writing–Taking on the Year of the Dragon

They were Kung-Fu Writing! Those geeks were fast as lighting! Adverbs a little bit frightening! Okay, I’ll stop. 2012 is the Year of the Dragon! Hiyah! *does really lame karate kick*. And yes, I screwed up and initially put Year of the Tiger. But was it really a goof? I think NOT. 2012 is gonna be WAY better…it’s the Year of the Dragon…infused with TIGER BLOOD (Thank you, Charlie Sheen for going crazy. Bailed my @$$ out of a major oops!)

Anyway, I have been a writer for many years and you learn by a lot of trial and error what tools are awesome and what are a total time-suck and waste of energy or money. For instance, the Universal Control???? TOTAL waste of money. It did NOT allow me to control the universe.

Anyway….

Many of you have made New Year’s Resolutions to:

  1. Take your dream to write seriously.
  2. Invest more energy, time, resources to becoming a professional writer.
  3. Finish your novel.
  4. Self-publish.
  5. Indie publish.
  6. Land an agent.
  7. Train howler monkeys to use nunchuks on anyone who interrupts your writing time.

All of these are awesome goals and, when it comes to the howler monkeys, just take it from me and skip trying to potty train them. A diaper will work and Season Three of Toddlers & Tiaras makes them highly aggressive, ergo better bodyguards.

I wanted to take some time to list books, tools, and other miscellaneous items that I think all writers need to be less likely to end up on a roof with a shotgun and a pan of brownies successful. These are all tools that have helped me grow tremendously in my profession, and I would like time to share them with you guys.

Best Books for Learning the Craft & Profession (in no particular order, cuz they ALL ROCK!)

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Hooked by Les Edgerton

Save the Cat by legendary screenwriter Blake Snyder

The Writer’s Journey–Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Plot & Structure by Nationally Best-Selling Author James Scott Bell

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches by Jessica Morrell

Fire in the Fiction & Writing the Breakout Novel by Mega-Agent Donald Maass

Write It Forward–From Writer to Successful Author & The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by NYTBSA Bob Mayer

Social Media & Author Platform 

Yes, I am partial here, but my methods are fun and won’t make your head explode.

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media to get you started.

Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer for when you’re ready to lose the Big Wheel and take on the Big Girl/Big Boy Bike and some training wheels.

Blogging to Build Your Author Brand Workshop in April for when you are ready to lose the training wheels for good. This class is limited to only 100 slots and this class fills up FAST.

Social Media for the 21st Century Author is to teach you guys about social media. What works? What doesn’t? What is a total time suck? What sites are essential and which ones can you ignore?

Favorite Conferences & Workshops

Anything offered over at Write It Forward is well worth your time and money. Many classes are taught by New York Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. There are all kinds of craft workshops and even a workshop to help you understand the new options in publishing. This class is designed to help you discern which publishing avenue might be the best fit for you and your work.

For those of you who write Historical Fiction, the amazing author Victoria Martinez will be teaching a course about How to Do Historical Research and Writing and Natalie Markey will be offering a class about How to Be a Mom and a Writer and Do It All….without using duct tape or shock collars. Who knew? *shrugs*

DFW Writers Workshop Conference 2012 I will be teaching three classes and MEGA-AUTHOR JAMES ROLLINS is the keynote speaker. I have been to quite a few conferences but this one is always my favorite. If you can’t go to any other conference, go to this one!

The Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention is a conference all writers must do at least once, even if you don’t write romance. The workshops and networking opportunities are almost unparalleled. Not only that, but those romance authors seriously know how to plan a party.

Essential Tools for Maintaining Health and Sanity

To keep your back and joints healthy, I cannot recommend Bikram Yoga enough. See if there is a studio in your area and try it out. For those of you in the DFW area, I go to Bikram Yoga of North Texas. Come hang out! Detox and prevent joint and back issues that are common to writers. (Or if you are like me and already have the joint and back issues, it helps A LOT!)

Yoga in general is AWESOME for writers. If you don’t have time or money to go to a studio, I recommend Rodney Yee on video (and pick up a copy of Joy Held’s Writer Wellness for more tips for being a healthy and balanced writer).

More MUST-HAVE Tools 

A Keurig Coffee Maker

I LOVE AND CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT MY…

KEURIG COFFEE MAKER

I love this little gadget. When I brewed coffee in a pot, I found I either had waste or ended up drinking too much coffee. If I happened to get engrossed in work, I could end up with old or burned coffee. No more! I can make my coffee by the cup so it is fresh every time. I can change my mind what kind of coffee I want.

Autumn Harvest? Donut Shop? Hmmmmm….maybe a nice French Roast or some of that Hippie Dippy Organic stuff I got from Sprouts. I can change my MIND, and, as a woman? That…is….awesome.

I can even switch to tea, hot chocolate or chai. The Keurig even makes ice drinks! Wheeeeeeeeeee! Huh? Too much caffeine? Why would you say…wheeeeeeeeee!!!!

The KINECT

Feel stiff or sore from sitting too long? Brain feel like silly-putty left in the sun? No more! I use my Kinect every two hours. I get up, turn it on and do a couple of fun obstacle courses that make me move and groove and get the blood back in my brains where is belongs. I like Kinect Adventures best for the purpose of getting the cobwebs out of the noggin. The only potential down-side is you do need to be self-disciplined enough to get back to work!

Kung Fu Fighting for Kung Fu Writing

If you want to have fun and get a great workout on your Kinect? Get Kung-Fu High-Impact. I laugh as hard as I fight. This game inserts you right into the plot of a bad Kung-Fu movie.

Want to do backflips on to rooftops? Be able to fight while flying? Want to shoot lightning from your fingertips? No problem! Be a star in your own Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon…if Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was seriously low budget and had monsters…and an out of shape hero wearing yoga pants and a scrunchee.

Thing is, play is good for all people, especially CREATIVE people. Kung-Fu High-Impact makes you feel like a kid and you get a great workout, too. I totally know I cannot discipline myself to do this during the workday, but it does make an awesome reward for a hard day’s work.

Next Must-Have Item?

The Nook

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a Nook, but I do recommend you get some form of e-reader. I LOVE my Nook. It is portable and I totally dig that I can change the font to giant old lady print. I am reading genres I had started to avoid, namely because of the teensy-tiny letters. *cough* High Fantasy.

Why do I prefer the Nook? I don’t know if I do, because I didn’t see any reason to own two e-readers. I like owning a Nook because it allows me to borrow books and lend books to other Nook owners. And also, most writers are broke. I think this is in large part because we buy WAY too many books. With e-readers, we can still compulsively purchase more books than we will ever have time to read…only now it is CHEAPER.

I can also download my manuscript onto my Nook so I can read for flow, and, since I am not at a computer, I can’t nit-pick my writing until it bleeds and yells.

Moi???

Yes, I am a nit-picker.

This makes up my list of cool stuff all writers should own. And, of course, the thirty-foot Slip and Slide and snow cone machine are just a given *rolls eyes*. So of course I didn’t mention those. What are some other writing essentials? Books, tools, inflatable farm animals, lava lamps, hallucinogenic leftover meatloaf, or anything else I might have missed?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner’s Circle

Winner of Last Month’s 15 Page Critique is Gloria Richard. Please send your 3750 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com (Yes, I am looking for a new assistant. Gigi got a promotion at her other job which is AWESOME…but I really kinda miss her).

Winner of Last Week’s 5 Page Critique is Lanette Kauten. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com,

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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84 Comments

Why We Should All Hug a Self-Published & Indie Author

Yes, I solicit hugs. Sue me. This is LA Times best-selling author Stephen Jay Schwartz and me at the Romantic Times Convention in Los Angeles 2011.

On Wednesday’s blog, Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books, there was some really cool discussion about self-publishing–why it was horrible, would bring the doom and destruction the Mayans foretold, or even why it was the greatest invention since Pop Rocks. Today I am going to be a tad controversial and share my thoughts and opinions about the developments in our industry and why I, personally, want to hug the self-published author.

Originally, I loathed self-publishing and was even highly suspicious of indie publishing. I had all the same fears as many other people.

Great Scott! We already have a hard time getting people to read, and now we will flood the market with crappy books?

How will anyone find the good books?

It is going to mean nothing to say we are a published author when the market is filled with wanna-be-hack-poseurs!

I had pretty good reason for my feelings, since I hadn’t had the best experience with self-published authors. I had one writer in my critique group whose writing was so bad it should have been banned by the Geneva Convention. Not only did he “publish,” but then happily invited the entire group to his book signing at Barnes & Noble…after he’d tortured us with his brain vomit novel for a year.

Not long after that, I had another doozy of an experience.

Hubby and I were waddling through a Barnes & Noble (All right. I was the one waddling. I was very pregnant at the time). On my way to get a cup of tea, I spotted an older man sitting as a card table with stacks of books. Now, being in my profession, I could spot a self-published author who’d somehow scored a book-signing a mile away, and knew better than to make eye contact. But then again, my husband is a far kinder person than me.

I am still really stoked that he hasn’t yet figured out that I married WAY better than he did.

Anyway, Hubby decides to be nice and go talk to the older gentleman who had at least eight different books for sale, even though we’d already had a discussion about talking to the self-pubbed authors. We had at least a half a dozen $30 poorly written books at home that no one was ever going to read. I hated reading crap, and hated being gouged for a fancy hard-cover edition of crap even more.

I groaned, eyeing the Starbucks that adjoined the store. But I let Hubby talk to the author as I politely thumbed through a “novel” that wouldn’t have survived one minute in my critique group.  All was fine until I noticed he had a book about how to be a super successful published author.

Thumbing through, I saw page after page of advice that was more likely to get an aspiring writer tarred and feathered than published. Advice like “be distinctive with your query, like sending it in a pizza box or on scented paper.”

It got real ugly from there and I don’t think I am allowed in that Barnes & Noble anymore.

See, I tolerated that he wanted to publish and even mildly admired his gusto. But, when it came to making $25 a copy to give writers really bad, tragic advice? I was done.

I am very protective of baby writers….and we can probably just blame pregnancy hormones. I behave much better now. Hubby took me for clicker training at Petsmart.

So why did I take the time to share those stories with you?

Because they are Cousin Ray-Ray stories. Everyone has a horror story, but horror stories are not necessarily the norm and certainly are no reason to jump to conclusions. Also…

Just because something starts off ugly doesn’t mean it cannot transform.

For instance, it was possible to shop on the Internet back in the 90s. Now, you took your identity in your own hands doing it. We didn’t have good security measures and people, being naive, didn’t know what to look for when it came to plunking their personal information into a fill-box.

Now? Because people continued shopping on the Internet? Totally different experience. Why? Well, better filters from companies and a savvier customer who doesn’t just tell anyone her Social Security number.

Why Self Published Authors are Awesome

Oooh. I know some of you just cringed a little. Hear me out.

Five years ago I told anyone who would listen that publishing would go the way of the music industry. The traditional gatekeepers would lose their monoply and more power would flow to the artists. I predicted that the only thing that needed to happen for the walls to fall, was for an e-reader to become simple to use and affordable.

Ironically, I went to a writing conference in April of 2009. An agent on the panel declared that e-books were statistically insignificant and always would be. They would be the new audio book.

Yeah, I struck him off my query list. Clearly, he had no vision.

Then, three weeks later the first iPad released and proved my predictions correct. The e-book market exploded. Then came the Nook and y’all know they rest.

So why should we all hug a self-published author?

Because people who self-published, especially in the beginning, were what are called “early adopters.” Early adopters are those brave enough to buy the first VCRs, to be the first to buy stuff off a web site, the first to explore what it means to upload their manuscript as an e-book or print POD.

Think of it this way. If we hadn’t had people willing to look ridiculous clunking around in a steam-powered horseless carriage, we’d still be saddling up a horse to go to the store.

Monopolies Stifle Innovation

I am not picking on traditional publishing. But here’s the thing. When a company holds a monopoly on any industry, there is no impetus to change, become more efficient, or look for new ways to please a consumer. This is why entrepreneurs are good for all markets. They bring healthy competition that forces creativity, innovation and efficiency.

Monopolies are not fertile ground for the early adoption behavior that fuels the big industry changes.

Traditional publishers don’t generally have the luxury of being early adopters. Are they evil and thinking of ways to make writers lose hair? No. They have a lot of people depending on them, so they are less likely to take risks.

Yet, we need explorers and risk-takers to create the ripple that becomes the tidal wave of change. This is why we all need to thank a self-published author. They laid the ground for the “new norm.” They pressed and pushed until e-books and POD BECAME relevant and competitive and this made traditional publishing rethink its business approach.

Almost all writers of today and the future will consider e-books to be a huge part of their royalty portfolio.

How did this happen?

Self-published authors 1) couldn’t make it past the gatekeepers 2) didn’t want to mess with the gatekeepers. These two factors made them motivated, bold and willing to look dumb.

The deal is, there was an obstacle and self-published writers dared to find away around it or, if need be, through it.

My favorite saying?

Aut viam in veniam aut faciam.

I will find a way or make one. ~Hannibal

Self-Publishing Serves the Consumer

Make no mistake, I am well aware that there is a tidal wave of crap out there, but we will discuss this another time.

Many authors had good or even excellent writing…that simply could not get a traditional break.The reason for a barrier wasn’t always because the writing was bad. There are many reasons books get turned away.

Maybe the book didn’t fit cleanly into a genre and the agent couldn’t sell it. Maybe a sci-fi author now wanted to write a romance and the publisher wanted more sci-fi books. Maybe the publisher already had three werewolf books slated for the year. Here are books that would have been shelved, that now can get to readers who can then fall in love.

Self-Publishing and Indie Publishing Gave New Life to Dead Books

Maybe an author had a wonderful backlist that was now out of print and the publisher no longer wanted them. NYTBSA Bob Mayer is an excellent example. He had scads of titles that had hit the NYTBS list and even the USA Today List, but they were out of print and the publisher was done.

What about all the hours of hard work? Bob’s books were awesome, but now they’d been retired to some book nursing home when they still had a lot of life left. They could find new readers to love them, but if Bob had just given in, they would have faded away and been forgotten.

Bob, thankfully was a Green Beret and “give up” is not in his vocabulary. Not only did Bob not wave the white flag, he started he own publishing company, Who Dares Wins Publishing. You can check out his amazing books here.

Maybe a writer had an AWESOME book, but no one in traditional publishing could help. It happens. It happened with a book about how writers could use social media to build a platform, but traditional publishing was too slow to get the book to market before the content would be obsolete ;).

Thus the book was dead until indie press gave it life, and we now have the #1 best-selling We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. Traditional marketing could not help me, but Bob’s company Who Dares Wins Publishing could. How many writers have benefitted from a book that might have just died in a slush pile?

Self-Publishing Brings New & Fresh Variety

There are times when it makes no sense to query traditional publishing. For instance, if a writer happens to write poetry, short stories or even screenplays. Traditional publishing will almost never publish those non-traditional works. Ah, but talk to Chuck Wendig if you would like to enjoy some of this unconventional literary fare.

Is it because people don’t want to read short stories or is it more because the publisher can’t sell enough poetry books (unless the poet is Jewel) to make it a good investment for them and the author?

The same thing happened in the music industry. People thought the world would end because any band could get their chance at the spotlight. Music-lovers would be overwhelmed with crap since they didn’t have Empire Records telling people what to like.

What happened?

People bought more music than ever before. Since they were no longer forced to buy an entire LP, they were more inclined to listen to NEW kinds of music now that they could get songs for 99 cents (Thanks to Steve Jobs). The current generation has a very broad palette and dynamic tastes. How were they able to sort through all the choices, sift the treasures from the garbage? The same way people will sort the literary treasures from the garbage.

Good content. Positive word of mouth.

I think people are reading more and more and this is exploding in exponential proportions. Writers should be doing a big fat happy dance. With e-readers and smart phones, people read more than they ever have in human history. They are also far more likely to explore new genres, new authors, and sample new content.

But without the tenacity of the self-published (or indie) author, would we even have the e-reader? Would we have had it as soon? Would we have millions of people willing to read all kinds of genres? Or would we still be limited to paper books and griping that people don’t read anymore?

So back to the beginning of my story. Sure, those two self-published authors made me want to slam my head in a door. But now? In retrospect? Both of them invested hard work, money and time into exploring new ways to get their product to the consumer. They dared to be different.

The self-published author had nothing to lose, so he was more willing to test out, try and invest time and money into unconventional methods….methods that we now commonly enjoy.

I cannot tell you the joy I now have for reading now that I have a Nook. I have read more books and more genres than ever before. My husband downloads almost a book a week. Before e-books, he never read. My mom uses a Nook because she can make the font large enough to make reading enjoyable.

We enjoy these new luxuries because entrepreneurs dared to think outside the box and would not back down from getting their chance to shine. Some of them failed, but they failed why daring greatly…so I thank them. We all should thank them, no matter what kind of writer you aspire to be, traditional, indie or self-published.

So what do you think? Do you think  of self-publishing a little differently? Do you think I am the devil’s handmaiden? Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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74 Comments

How to Hook a Reader and NEVER Let Go

What is the one ingredient we MUST include to have great fiction? CONFLICT. No conflict, no story. One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see in new writers is that they fail to understand the difference between authentic conflict versus a bad situation. Bad situations do not make good fiction. Bad situations are boring and probably the largest source of melodrama. Today I am going to give you tools to make sure your fiction grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. The best way to ensure your reader is your captive is to have conflict on every page.

The most important component to creating loads of conflict is that our protagonist must have an active and tangible goal.

Conflict is relative. If we have no idea of the objective, then bad events are just bad events. Bad events must become setbacks. How can we transform bad luck to a setback? Give a hint of the end goal.

Want to know one of the quickest ways to get a reader on the edge of her seat? Show a glimpse of the mountain summit, then throw rocks at the characters and knock them off every cliff. If they get to a nice place for a breather, there better be at least a small rockslide to knock them back a 1000 feet. Yet, these setbacks will mean nothing if the observer doesn’t see the end goal.

Too many new writers do not present the story goal, or the goal is passive. Passive goals suck. Passive goals are like “containing Communism.” Guess what? Didn’t work in Vietnam, and it won’t work in our story either.

In my Warrior Writer Boot Camp (inspired by Bob Mayer), every participant MUST tell us what her story is about in ONE sentence. I recommend you check out this earlier blog for a more detailed explication.

ONE SENTENCE?

Yes. ONE sentence, and the number of the counting should be ONE. Not three, not two. FIVE????…is right out! But the number of the counting shall be ONE. Then thou shalt cast off thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and blow thine enemies to teeny tiny….

Oops. Got sidetracked. Okay. ONE sentence. That sentence needs your protagonist, the antagonist, and an active goal.

Recently one of my WWBC participants sent in this log-line.

A teenager must protect the princess of Atlantis from an angry grief-stricken scientist who wants to take her power which will unknowingly release Chaos into the world.

Um, all righty. What is the goal? Protection. This is a passive goal. This is “containing Communism.” It sounds kind of interesting, but do we really get a picture of what this story is about? For all we know the entire story could be an Atlantean Princess stuffed in a human-size hamster ball with the protag guarding her with a shotgun. Not very interesting fiction.

Protection is one of those things that is kind of implied. I recently edited a book for a friend, and her protag’s main goal was “to survive.”

Okay, don’t know about you guys, but survival is my goal every day. In fact, when I wake up each morning, probably my biggest objective for the day is, “Don’t get killed.” It’s why I don’t blow dry my hair in the tub or lick light sockets. It’s why I wear a seatbelt and don’t run through my house with knives.

Duh! Unless we are suicidal, EVERYONE’S goal is survival. Fiction is only interesting when characters have goals that are special and unique, and since most of the world’s population has the goal to stay ALIVE…survival is BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRING!

A main goal to protect or survive is IMPLIED. When Frodo and Samwise set out with the Ring of Power, I guarantee you that they want to protect the Ring. I also guarantee you they want to survive, but these two goals are not what make The Lord of the Rings interesting. What makes it interesting is that they MUST protect the Ring long enough, and stay ALIVE long enough to toss the evil ring into the fires of MOUNT DOOM.

Okay…volcanoes are interesting. Volcanoes named Mount DOOM are super interesting.

 

So my little writer had a passive goal with his “protecting the Princess.” Boring!  After a sound thrashing from the Death Star as my students fondly call me, the participant came up with THIS…

A popular computer geek and the princess of Atlantis must find the last remaining time machine in order to prevent an idealistic Guardian from stealing her power and controlling Atlantis.

Awesome! Now we have a GOAL. The protagonist and allies must make it to a time machine before the bad guys do or BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Those bad things that must be prevented are called STAKES. Great books have HIGH STAKES.

YES, I HAVE HAD A LOT OF COFFEE TODAY AND I AM USING THE CAPS A LOT.

STAKES ARE INTERESTING.

In this new log-line, there is a tangible finish line and a goal that is different than the rest of the world. I bet you woke up today wanting to survive. Did you wake up with the sole notion that you would find a time machine???? Okay, you in the back be quiet, and if you find one, let me know.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I would wager that most of us did not wake up this morning with the goal of finding a time machine. Locating a time machine is an interesting goal.The writer has now provided us with a glimpse of the “summit.” We also know bad things will happen if our hero fails. We will also worry and bite our nails as we get closer and closer to the end of the book and still no time machine and the clock has almost run out. STAKES! TENSION!

When we do not have a tangible goal for our protagonist, this is like dropping him in the Andes and watching him eat his friends to stay alive. Kind of interesting in a morbid way, but we have nothing to root for. It is different than dropping Pedro and his soccer team in the mountains and they have to make it to THAT mountain…THAT mountain over THERE…because there is a shed full of food and a radio.

Before, our soccer team was just stranded. Every blizzard and rockslide was merely a BAD SITUATION on top of a BAD SITUATION. Yet when Pedro and the Halfbacks set out for a particular mountain the quality of the situation changes. NOW there is a specific objective that we, the observer can SEE. Every avalanche that takes them farther from food, blankets and a radio makes us squirm in our seats and worry if they will make it in time.

But still, as I just said, that is just a Bad Situation layered on a Bad Situation. Not really genuine conflict…yet. To ensure GREAT fiction, we need a CONFLICT LOCK (via Bob Mayer again :D). A conflict lock can only happen when two parties disagree. If you have a scene with only one person, there ain’t conflict. Sorry. Navel-gazing is therapy, not great storytelling.

And don’t try to cheat with the She is her own worst enemy. Who among you LIKE those people let alone want to see them win? Seriously. I know a lot of people who cannot stand prosperity and will sabotage every good thing in their lives. They are annoying. Readers want to follow heroes and heroines…not losers who can’t get their act together.

If you have a scene, there need to be two people (minimum) and they cannot agree…ever. In fact, it really has to get bleak before they can work as a team. I find it so funny that I get all these novels and everyone just works together. No one questions authority. Yeah, right.

Great fiction mirrors life and I can tell you from experience that if you have more than three people with the same goal, they will almost never agree. Go run a committee for ANYTHING and tell me I am wrong.

Fiction is the path of greatest resistance.

Back to the Andes….

If Pedro and Juan are the only two living soccer players, Pedro will want to keep climbing and Juan will want to lie in the snow and die. And the reader will be screaming and hoping that Pedro can convince Juan to keep going…despite the avalanche that just knocked them back 1500 feet down the slope and took their shoes.

Every scene needs a problem that needs to be solved so that protag and allies can make it closer to the goal.

Big Goal: Make it to top of Big Mountain where there is a shed of supplies.

Scene Problem: An avalanche sweeps Pedro and Juan 1500 feet and takes their shoes.

Conflict Lock:

Pedro wants to continue barefoot to the top of Mount X no matter what.

Juan has given up. He wants to lie in the snow and die.

Stakes: If they don’t keep going they will DIE.

Every scene needs a conflict lock, which means every scene needs an antagonist. The scene antagonist is whoever is in opposition with the protagonist. Juan is interfering with the main goal of getting to the shed on Mount X, ergo he is the antagonist. Refer to last week’s blog for clarification. His refusal to be on board with the party plan is what injects genuine conflict into the story. It makes the reader worry. Worried readers can’t quit turning pages until they get relief from the nail-biting tension…the conclusion.

THAT is good fiction.

Why must our characters never agree? Because if they do agree, there is only so much we can throw at them before it is just wash, rinse, repeat. This happens in a lot of bad action movies. We only can endure so many car chases and explosions before we are bored. Same with our stranded soccer players. Great, there have been 12 avalanches. We get it. Oh, but this is a bigger avalanche? Oh, a bigger blizzard? Yeah. Sorry. Really don’t care. That is bad luck, not good fiction. For more about bad luck versus authentic conflict, I HIGHLY recommend Les Edgerton’s Hooked.

Remember:

1. Goals must be active and tangible.

2. Bad situations are not enough. Tragedies are not fiction, they are news headlines.

3. Every scene needs a conflict lock. (Seriously check out NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s workshops to really learn how to do this technique)

4. There must be high stakes; either physical or emotional annihilation.

So what are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite stories? What kept you glued to your seat? What are some books or movies that fell flat? Was it because of one of the reasons I just mentioned? I want to hear from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last week’s winner of 5 page critique is Tim O’Brien. Please send your 1250 word Word document to my assistant. gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com. Congratulations!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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63 Comments

Antagonists–The Alpha and the Omega of the Story

I’ve run critique groups for almost eight years. I also have edited literally hundreds of manuscripts, and one thing that most new writers do not accurately understand is the antagonist.

I have to admit that I didn’t understand the antag the way I needed to until a few years ago, and this pivot-point in my education would not have happened without the fabulous Bob Mayer. Not only is he a NY Times and USA Today Best-Selling mega-author, but he is a great writing teacher as well. A couple years ago, Bob actually taught me a technique that changed everything about the way I wrote. Bob advised that I start thinking of the antagonist FIRST. Initially, I was resistant. I mean, I wanted to construct my heroine. She was far more fun. But, as I would soon learn…that was backwards thinking.

Construct your antagonist first. Trust me. You will thank me (and Bob ) later.

As I have said in previous posts, there is no story without the antagonist. Period. The story IS the antagonist’s agenda.  No Buffalo Bill, no Silence of the Lambs. No Darth Vader, and Skywalker doesn’t have a Death Star to destroy. If Joker was a choir boy, Batman’s life would have no meaning.

Antagonists are the Alpha AND the Omega—the beginning AND the end.

Once we understand the antagonist, narrative structure falls into place with far less effort. The antagonist is responsible for the inciting incident (beginning) and the Big Boss Battle (the end).

When we know our antagonist, it is easier to find a beginning point.

Too  many authors have awkward prologues that serve no real purpose. They are just stuck on the front because the new writer wants to “hook” the reader because she intends on spending 50 pages to get going (normally with a lot of back story about the protag’s childhood). Hey, I made the same mistakes when I was new, too. We are here to learn ;).

So there is this awkward prologue slapped on the front to hook the reader. Yeah, um no. Prologues are bad juju. Read why here.

Back to antagonists and structure…

When we understand what the antagonist WANTS, then it is easier to pinpoint where and how his life intersects with our protagonist—also known as the inciting incident.

Normal World—Shows us the protag’s life as it would have remained had the antag never come along to disrupt the protagonist’s life. Normal World grounds us and gives us a chance to become vested in the protag. We need to connect if we are going to spend the next 80-100,000 words caring for this character. Normal World hints that all is not well. It doesn’t hang us over a cliff or a tank of sharks or have us in a hospital weeping over a lost loved one. That is melodrama.

Inciting Incident—Is that event that offers the possibility of change. The protagonist still has to MAKE a choice before we make it to the first major plot point. The inciting incident is that point where the agenda of the antagonist intersects the life of the protagonist.

Normal World–>Inciting Incident–> (Choice) Turning Point into Act One

In screenplays there are three acts, always. In novels, there are four acts. Normal World, Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3.Screenplays generally condense that Normal World so much that it is just part of Act One. In novels, we need time to be vested in the character. Hooking the reader is less about fast action or heart wrenching melodrama and more about presenting a character we like, and who we care about. We connect and we sense trouble, so we worry, and that’s why we stick around.

When we understand the antagonist and his agenda, it is far easier to write great endings.

In Star Wars, we knew Darth’s plan involved the Death Star. Thus, the ending logically would involve the Death Star getting all blowed up, right? In Romancing the Stone, the bad guys kidnapped Joan Wilder’s sister in order to get the jewel. Thus, even if we had never seen the movie, it would be easy to extrapolate that the ending likely involves rescuing a sister and making sure bad guys go to jail and don’t end up with the jewel.

Our beginnings will change a dozen times or more before we make it to the final draft. If you are beginning a book, my advice is that you write out your antagonist’s history. What does he want? Why does he want it? How does he plan on getting what he wants?

Also, remember that the antagonist, in his mind, is not the bad guy. This will help give your antagonist dimension. Antagonists are not always villains. Villains are merely ONE FLAVOR of antagonist.

Remember that the antagonist is the hero in his own story.

Great villains do not believe they are the bad guy. Hannibal Lecter felt he was doing society a service by eating the less desirable members of the species. It is his warped justification for his actions that makes him even more fascinating.

Antagonists are not always wrong; their goals just conflict with the protagonist and disrupt her life and force change.

For instance, the antagonist in Steele Magnolias is the daughter, Shelby. What is her agenda? Have a baby despite having severe, life-threatening diabetes. That is a noble goal that isn’t necessarily wrong. Why does this make Shelby the antagonist? Because, if Shelby had been happy to adopt, then M’Lynn’s (mom-protagonist) life would have remained the same. When we understand Shelby’s plan—have a baby despite life-threatening diabetes—then plotting becomes far easier. At the end, there must be a baby. Whether that baby lives or dies is up to the creator.

Your protagonist will be reacting to the antagonist’s agenda for roughly 75% of your story. It is only in the final act that your protagonist will transition into a hero and will start gaining ground.This is why, when we begin a novel, it makes sense to figure out out ending first. Then, plotting becomes MUCH easier in that we know how and where the story ends. Then plotting is just a matter of getting the protag from point A to point Z.

Some outstanding references to help you guys:

Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering.

James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Bob Mayer’s Novel Writer’s Toolkit

What are some of your favorite movie endings? Some really well-layered antagonists that had you on the edge of your seat? I vote for Law Abiding Citizen.  I had a hard time rooting for the protag, and found myself hoping the “bad guy” would win. It was very surreal, but proof-positive that this was a BRILLIANT antagonist that made for a spectacular ending…because his PLAN was just that darn great.

What about you guys? I love hearing your opinions and thoughts.

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner’s Circle

Winner of 5 Page Critique is Joseph Kurtenbach. Please send your 1250 word Word document to my assistant Gigi. gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

Winner of 15 Page Critique is Jennifer Jensen. Please send your 3750 word Word document to my assistant as well.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

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Structure Part 3–Introducing the Opposition

Welcome to Part III of my Structure Series. If you want to self-publish or indie publish, I would assume most of you want to be successfully published, regardless the format or distributor. To be considered “successfully published” we have to sell a lot of books. To sell a lot of books, we must connect with readers. That is what this series is about. Structure is how readers connect to stories. The stronger the structure, the better the story. I highly recommend that you read Part I and Part II of this series, if you haven’t already in that each lesson builds upon the previous lesson.

Let’s get started.

Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Yes, we can break rules, but we must understand them first. Conflict in any novel can have many faces and often you will hear this referred to as the antagonist. I am not going to use that term in the traditional way because I think it can be confusing. Every scene in your book should have an antagonist, but I am getting ahead of myself. Today we are going to start with the Big Boss Troublemaker. No BBT and you have no story. Your opposition is the most important ingredient for a great story readers will love.

The Big Boss Troublemaker is whoever or whatever causes the hero’s world to turn upside down. The BBT creates the story problem that must be resolved by the end of your tale. The BBT is also who or what must be present at the Big Boss Battle. In Star Wars, the BBT was the Emperor. It is his agenda that causes the inciting incident and it is he who must be faced in the final battle or the movie ain’t over.

In the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick is running from bounty hunters. Due to the nature of the story, it begins right in the action. Who is the antagonist? In that scene it is the bounty hunter.

Riddick’s goal—remain free

Bounty Hunter’s goal—capture wanted criminal Riddick

Their goals are in conflict (This technique, called the Conflict Lock–is taught by NYTBSA Bob Mayer). The bounty hunter is the antagonist in the scene, but he isn’t the Big Boss Troublemaker.

Lord Marshal actually was the party responsible for bounty on Riddick’s head (via the Elementals). The Lord Marshal was also responsible for the extinction of Riddick’s home world in an effort to kill the Furyan male who was prophesied to bring his end. Who is fighting in the Big Boss Battle?

Riddick and the BBT, Lord Marshal.

The stronger your BBT, the better. In the beginning, your protagonist should be weak. If pitted against the BBT, your protag would be toast…or actually more like jelly that you smear across the toast.

The Big Boss Troublemaker doesn’t have to be a person. It can be a storm, like in The Perfect Storm or disease, like in Steel Magnolias.

Remember high school literature?

Man against man.

Man against nature.

Man against himself.

The first one is pretty simple, but the next two? This is where things get tricky when the BBT is not corporeal. Humans don’t do so great with existentialism. Thus, your story likely will lend itself more to a character battle. What is it about your protagonist that will change when pitted against nature or the worst parts of himself?

In The Perfect Storm, was the storm really the BBT? Or was it merely a catalyst that brought forth the real BBT…pride, manifested in the ship’s captain who acts as the proxy. In the end, the men lose. They believe that their skill will be able to triumph over the storm, and they are wrong, which is probably why I really didn’t care for the book or the movie, but that is just me.

In Steel Magnolias the BBT is disease/death, manifested in the proxy of the daughter Shelby. Shelby’s decision to get pregnant despite having diabetes (Inciting Incident) is what changes the mother M’Lynn forever. What must change about M’Lynn? She is a control freak who must learn to embrace life for all its ugliness. She cannot beat death, or can she?

We see M’Lynn in the beginning of the movie fluttering over her daughter’s wedding, controlling everything and tending to the flowers and the broken glasses (symbol). When Shelby dies, M’Lynn is once again trying to control everything, tending the flowers and the broken things—her husband and sons. She falls apart after the funeral.

M’Lynn has let go of control and the arc is complete. In the Big Boss Battle, the BBT is defeated. How? Shelby is dead. The BBT is defeated in that there is resurrection. Diabetes and death have been defeated. Shelby lives on in the son she left behind, a grandson that M’Lynn would never have had if she’d gotten her way in the beginning and been permitted to control Shelby’s life. (Note that this entire movie is bookended by Easter).

In the movie Footloose the BBT is religious fundamentalism, which is represented by the town preacher and father of the protag’s love interest. Kevin Bacon wants to dance, BBT wants no dancing. The town preacher is responsible for the story problem. How can a dancing city boy hold a dance in a town ruled by religious fundamentalism?

Your BBT is the entire reason for your story. No Emperor and there is no Star Wars. No Lord Marshal and Riddick would be off doing what Riddick likes to do when he isn’t killing things. If everyone agreed the storm was too big to mess with, then there would have been no Perfect Storm. If Shelby didn’t have diabetes, then there would be no challenge and, thus no story. In Footloose, if the town had been Catholic there wouldn’t be an issue.

So, once you have your Big Boss Troublemaker, you will have emissaries of the BBT. Depending on the type of story, usually the BBT will have a chain of command. Some will be actual characters. The Emperor had Darth and Darth had Storm Troopers that he could send out to cause massive inconvenience to others. They all trace back to the original BBT, though. The BBT is the core of the story and must be defeated by the end of the story. Everything leads to destroying the BBT.

So we have Big Boss Troublemaker.

We have the BBT’s emissaries.

Ah, but EVERY scene has an antagonist. What is the antagonist? The antagonist is whoever is standing in the way of your protagonist achieving her goal.

In Romancing the Stone who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The BBT is the crooked inspector. Who are the emissaries of the inspector? The two thieving brothers who have kidnapped romance author Joan Wilder’s sister (the crooked inspector is using them as unwitting pawns to get the map and get the jewel). What is the goal? The jewel. What is the final battle? When the inspector and one of the thieves are fed to the alligators in an act of poetic justice, and the younger brother is taken to jail.

Who is the antagonist? That changes, but Jack (the love interest) often serves the antagonist’s role. Joan wants to just give the map to the thieves in exchange for her sister. Jack wants to use the map to find the jewel.

Some Pretty Hard and Fast BBT Rules—Break these Rules at Your Own Risk

Rule #1–BBT (or a proxy of the BBT)  MUST be introduced in Act I. No leading us on for 50 pages before we get an introduction. BBT is responsible for Inciting Incident.

Rule #2–The love interest CANNOT be the BBT. He or she can wear the antagonist’s hat, but he or she CANNOT be the BBT. Why? Because the BBT must be defeated in the Big Boss Battle, and utter defeat isn’t exactly grounds for a lasting relationship. Also, in romance, even though guy and girl might not get along in the beginning, they do come together as a team for the final showdown against the BBT.

Pizza has rules and so does romance. I am sure there are exceptions, but it defies the code of great love stories and often leads to a very unsatisfactory ending.  Audiences have tastes that we are wise to appreciate. If we want to write romance, then there is a fairly strict code that guy and gal end up together in the end. It’s the whole point of reading romance, so we can believe love conquers all. If our romance mimics life too much, then there is no escape and that defeats the entire purpose of reading romance.

Yes there are exceptions. I am here to help you guys grasp the overall rules. Once we understand the rules, then we can break them.

Rule #3–BBT MUST be defeated in your book. Period.

There has to be a Big Boss Battle in your story or the story problem is not fully resolved. A lot of new writers are “writing a series.” And, oh, but Such-and-Such dies in book 12 of my series. No. Sorry. Try again.

In a series, the protagonist in every book MUST DEFEAT the BBT responsible for the story problem. We must treat that book as a stand-alone. If we were hit by an ice cream truck and never wrote another, the problem of our last book would be resolved.

We will talk more about this on another blog, because series are a whole other ballgame. I will give you a nugget to hold you over, though. Think back to what we talked about earlier. BBTs have emissaries sent to do their evil deeds. Treat each emissary as your BBT in each book (only you don’t have to tell the reader unless you want to). Each BBT is a necessary step to complete in the overall defeat of the series’ MAIN BBT.

(Book I) BBT–> (Book II) BIGGER BBT–> (Book III) HOLY MOLY! AN EVEN BIGGER BBT!!!!

Lord of the Rings

Defeat Uruk-Hai–> Defeat Saurauman–> Defeat Sauron

Okay, well that’s enough for today. Need to stop before your brains all explode and then you have to clean up your keyboard. Structure is tough, and hopefully this series is breaking it down in to bite-size, manageable pieces.

I want to hear your comments. Who are your favorite BBTs of all time? Do you still have questions or other topics you would like me to explore? Do you have any books or techniques you would like to share?

Exercise I–Watch your favorite movies. Who was the BBT? Who were the emissaries? How was the BBT’s agenda introduced?

Exercise II–Recall your favorite books. Again. Who was the BBT? Who were the emissaries of the BBT? How was the BBT’s agenda introduced?

Exercise III–For the literary folk. Who was the protagonist? What internal flaw was the protag forced to confront? How was it manifested (BBT)? Was the character flaw defeated? How was the BBT defeated?

In Steel Magnolias the character flaw (need to control) is defeated when Shelby dies. M’Lynn lets go of control. Diabetes/Death (the BBT), however, is defeated with life. Shelby will live on through her son.

Yeah, it’s a brain-bender but great exercise for our story-telling muscles.

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5 page Critique–Angela Quarles. Please send your 1250 word Word doc to my assistant. Gigi. Her e-mail is gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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So You Think You Can ePublish?

“No one knew this boy had special powers. Little did the adults suspect he would change the world…after they changed his diaper.”

Happy Friday!!!! Today we have a real treat. Jen Talty, the better cuter half of Who Dares Wins Publishing, is here to share some exciting news about an upcoming workshop at Write It Forward. Self-publishing is EXPLODING and there are more opportunities than ever before to carve out some writing success. Yet, to quote The Incredibles, “When everyone is special, then no one is.”

There is a ton of competition now that the traditional gatekeepers no longer hold sole possession of the Keys to the Publishing Kingdom. There are so many options out there, and with more choices comes paralysis by analysis. Which option is the best fit for your work? How can you do everything and still have time to write? Is that even possible?

Let’s hand this over to Jen and she’ll explain more. Thanks so much, Jen, for being here!

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Technology has opened many a new door for civilization. From trains, planes and automobiles, we are a society on the go. Now we’re a society on the go that brings our office AND our leisure activities in our pockets. We can stay connected to friends, family and our boss… while enjoying a good read at the beach while… on vacation… all from the comfort of our Droid, Blackberry, Tablet, iPhone, iPad, iTouch…and the list goes on.

Technology has made it self-publishing easier, and more complicated at the same time. Easier because the technology has given authors direct access to their readers. Distribution in the eBook world is not ruled by the Big 6, and therefore there the space between author and reader is much shorter. Add the incredible growth rate in the eBook market, it’s a great time to be a writer.

At Write It Forward we have a few basic concepts:

  • Writers produce the product
  • Readers consume the product
  • Everyone else is in between
  • Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way

In November, Bob and I will be teaching an on-line workshop regarding how to self-publish successfully. The course is designed to help anyone, from published authors with a backlist to the unpublished considering self-publishing. We will be giving you our collective experience in both traditional publishing, digital publishing and self-publishing.

This workshop will look closely at self-publishing distribution channels from what kind of file you will need to upload your eBook to various options you have in creating the files. We will also discuss all the various platforms such as Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Smashwords and what are the best strategies to getting your book up for sale.

We will discuss doing it yourself, outsourcing and team-building options. Authors have more options today than ever before, but the process can be overwhelming. While this is not a step-by-step technical class, the workshop is designed to give you enough information to make informed decisions on how to get your eBook on all formats possible.

We will also touch on various marketing tools we have used to help our business continue to grow.

We have over 20 years experience in traditional publishing, 5 years in ePublishing and 2 years with our own publishing company Who Dares Wins Publishing. Our unique experience is part of why we have been so successful in this new Wild West of publishing. We hope that by sharing all that we have learned, you too can have some of the great success that we have seen.

Instructor Bios

NY Times Bestselling Author Bob Mayer has over 50 books published.  He has sold over four million books and is in demand as a team-building, life-change, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins:  The Green Beret Way concept which he translates into Write It Forward: a holistic program teaching writers how to be authors.  He is also the Co-Creator of Who Dares Wins Publishing, which does both eBooks and Print On Demand, so he has experience in both traditional and non-traditional publishing.

His books have hit the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and numerous other bestseller lists.  His last release, The Jefferson Allegiance, was released independently and reached #2 overall in sales on Nook.

Bob has presented for over 1,000 organizations both in the United States and internationally, including keynote presentations, all day workshops, and multi-day seminars.  He has taught organizations ranging from Maui, to Whidbey Island, to San Diego State University, to the University of Georgia, to the Romance Writers of America National Convention, to Boston SWAT, the CIA, Fortune-500, Microsoft, the Royal Danish Navy Frogman Corps, Microsoft, Rotary, IT Teams in Silicon Valley and many others.  He has also served as a Visiting Writer for NILA MFA program in Creative Writing.  He has done interviews for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, PBS, NPR, the Discovery Channel, the SyFy channel and local cable shows.  For more information see www.bobmayer.org.

Jennifer Talty co-created Who Dares Wins Publishing with NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer, and runs the technical side of the company. She is published in romance and teaches Creative Writing at various writing conferences across the country.

Jennifer Talty received a BS degree in Business Education with a concentration in Marketing and Sales from Nazareth College of Rochester.  She taught Business Applications at both the High School Level and in Continuing Education.  She was a co-leader of Distributed Education Clubs of America and worked with students in developing marketing, sales and public speaking skills.  After leaving the teaching profession she worked as product and sales trainer for various hardware and software companies such as 3Comm, HP and McAfee and was the regional merchandising representative for Buena Vista Entertainment.

Thank you so much for being here!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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24 Comments

Little Darlings & Why They Must Die..for Real

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.” Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian filing cabinet where they would come back as really bad novels. …oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot.

Today we will address two especially nefarious writing hazards that like to lurk below the wittiest dialogue and most breathtaking description:

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

These two related booby-traps are often hidden beneath our little darlings (clever dialogue, beautiful description, etc).

That is probably why Stephen King recommended we kill them. Yes, kill them dead. No burying them in the Pet Semetary, also known as “revision.” Killing means killing….as in delete forever. Or at least cut them cleanly from the story and hide in a Word folder to give yourself time to grieve and move on with the real novel. Yet too many times we hang on to those favorite characters or bits of dialogue, reworking them and hoping we can make them fit…at the expense of the rest of the story.

Th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go.

Hazard #1—Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. Good characterization is what breathes life into black letters on a white page, creating “people” who are sometimes more real to us than their flesh and blood counterparts. The problem is that characterization is a skill that has to be learned, usually from a lot of mistakes. Yet, time and time again, I see writers—as NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer would say—moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.

In a last ditch attempt to spare a darling, a writer describes the character more, or gives more info dump or more internal thought, or more back story, yet never manages to accomplish true characterization. So, when something really bad happens, we the reader just don’t care. Les Edgerton, in his book Hooked explores this problem in detail if you would like to read more, but to keep it short and sweet I’m going to explain it this way.

Most of us have driven down a highway at around rush hour, so picture this scenario.

We notice emergency lights ahead. The oncoming traffic lane is shut down and looks like a debris field. Four mangled cars lay in ruins, surrounded by somber EMTs. Do you feel badly? Unless you’re a sociopath, of course you do.

Now… You look into that same oncoming lane and two of the cars you recognize. They belong to friends you were supposed to meet for dinner.

Before you cared…now you are connected.

That is how good characterization makes the difference. If we open our story with this gut-wrenching scene in a hospital where someone is dying, we are taking a risk. Readers will certainly care on a human level, but not on the visceral level that makes them have to close the book and get tissue.

I have had to pry many, many darlings like these away from desperate writers “parents” unwilling to take the scenes off of life support. They wrote opening scenes of car accidents and hospitals and death and child abduction so vivid they couldn’t read their own work without tearing up. I did the same thing early in my writing journey. The problem, however, was this…no one but us cared.

We hadn’t done enough development of the story to make the readers just as vested as we were. And, because we were so determined to keep these gut-wrenching scenes, we never dug in and did the real work that would have made the audience cry too.

Hazard #2—Mistaking Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. In fact, back in February at the DFW Writer’s Workshop Conference, I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of new and hopeful writers in between classes I was teaching. I would ask them what their book was about and the conversation would sound a bit like this:

What’s your book about?

Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a vampire and he’s actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

*blank stare*

What is her goal?

Um. To find out who she is?

These conversations actually made me chuckle because now I know what Bob Mayer felt like the day he met me :D. My first novel was so complex, I don’t even think I fully understood it. But back to the conference. Most writers wanted to land an agent, yet, out of everyone I talked to, only two could state what their novel was about in three sentences or less.

The tragic part is that most of the novels did not have a genuine conflict lock. Protagonist wants this. Antagonist wants that. What they each want is destined to lock in conflict. Great tactic taught by Bob Mayer in his Novel Writer’s Toolkit. It is my opinion that all these writers, deep down, knew they were missing the backbone to their story—CONFLICT. I think they sensed it on a sub-conscious level and that is why their plots grew more and more and more complicated.

They were trying to fix a structural issue with Bondo putty and duct tape and then hoping no one would notice. How do I know this? I used to own stock in Plot Bondo.

The problem is, complexity is not conflict. We can create an interstellar conspiracy, birth an entirely new underground spy network, resurrect a dead sibling who in reality was sold off at birth, or even start the Second Civil War to cover up the space alien invasion…but it ain’t conflict. Interstellar war, guerilla attacks, or evil twins coming back to life can be the BACKDROP for conflict, but alone are not conflict.

And, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way.

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complex. We frequently get too complex when we are trying to b.s. our way through something we don’t understand and hope works itself out. Um, it won’t. Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we get complex to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

I sincerely believe these little darlings are like fluffy beds of leaves covering pungee pits of writing death.

Be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. And then kill them dead and bury your pets for real.

You have rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

This week’s winner of 5-page edit is Marilag Lubag. Please send your doc (1250 words) to kristen @ kristen lamb dot org.

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

My book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media hit THREE best-seller lists on Kindle yesterday. #2 in Computers & Technology, #13 in Authorship and #17 in Advertising. THANK YOU!!!!! This book is recommended by some of the biggest authors AND agents in New York, so make sure you pick up a copy if you don’t have one already.

Also, if you want to learn how to blog or even how to take your blogging to a level you never dreamed possible…get your copy of Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer  today. This book hit #1 on the best-selling list in less than 48 hours thanks to all of YOU!!!!! Not only will this book help you learn to blog, but you will be having so much fun, you will forget you were supposed to be learning.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

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